Happy Halloween, fellow horror fiends! As all of us challenge ourselves to watch a single new horror movie each day this October, we praise the streaming gods for countless options. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and Shudder are just a handful of platforms that offer some frightening treats hidden across scrollable menus.
I’m here to steer you away from the tricks. I’ll take some chances, but promise to ensure your Halloween watch parties are on the thorny, gravestone-lined path towards spooky success.
Hell Fest (2018)
Halloween horror marathons should gravitate towards festive, thematically attuned movies like Hell Fest that already carry the All Hallow' Eve spirit. Gregory Plotkin's October slasher takes place at the equivalent of an Universal's Horror Nights or Six Flags' Fright Fest, already loaded with Halloween decorations. You've got a masked killer running around amusement park grounds where patrons gobble junky treats, while production values lead onlookers astray, keeping suspense on high. How are you supposed to escape a villain who blends into prop-filled mazes and enthusiastic scare actor hordes? That's the efficient "horrortainment" of Hell Fest.
The Babysitter (2017)
Who doesn’t like to have fun on Halloween? Don’t get me wrong, horror classics like The Exorcist have their place on queues — but I’d instead thrown on The Babysitter with friends. Samara Weaving stars as Bee, the cult-leader sitter in this home invasion comedy penned by Brian Duffield (writer of 2020’s Spontaneous) and directed by McG. You’re here for a supporting cast of satanic minions played by Robbie Amel, Bella Thorne, Hana Mae Lee and Andrew Bachelor, all of whom fumble their duty to capture preteen Cole (Judah Lewis) before he rats out Bee’s crew. It’s filled with gore gags and spunky energy with McG’s glossy finish, which works as a genuinely humorous midnighter starring a strong comedic ensemble.
Saint Maud (2019)
Rose Glass’ Saint Maud is one of the primary casualties of the pandemic, as its theatrical release morphed into a no-hype dump onto Epix’s on-demand service. No other release befell such an unfortunate fate, but that’s in the past — this melancholy sacrilege is now streamable and should be a popular October discovery. Morfydd Clark shines as Glass’ object of interest, playing a Maud who’s devoted herself to anointed saintliness in a way that warps her pious reality into something dangerous. It’s a slower brand of blasphemous frights until one blistering payoff, but will impress those who hunger for A24’s lavish production designs and lingering expressions of traumatized horror narratives.
The Houses October Built (2014)
As someone who attends haunted attractions from corporate parks to the “phones off, abandon hope” indie productions 45 minutes from the highway, The Houses October Built strikes a particular genre nerve. Filmmaker Bobby Roe and his cast of pseudo-documentarians travel around visiting Halloween amusements before the narrative morphs into straightforward horror when scare actors trade places with actual deviants. It’s authentically unsettling since Roe’s team — in reality — runs a database of worldwide haunts they’ve visited, which means all their spine-tingling experiences influence scripted terrors. Everything you’d ever imagined in a “haunt gone wrong” scenario emerges from cursed maze soil, as the intimacy of first-person camera lensing showcases why the “ultimate” haunt should be left alone.
Hell House LLC (2015)
Stephen Cognetti’s introduction of the Abaddon Hotel in Hell House LLC presents an evergreen companion to The Houses October Built, this time from the perspective of doomed attraction creators. Alex (Danny Bellini) and his company travel to Rockland Country, N.Y., where they plan to host the most immersive Halloween maze of their careers. Things go wrong, clown mannequins come to life and the site’s underworld connections present themselves in ways that claim 15 unfortunate souls on opening night. It’s the movie you’d expect, using found footage as an amplification of intimate fears; the ties to The Houses October Built run deep and beg for a double-bill night of funhouse horrors.
Satan’s Slaves (2017)
AMC’s horror streaming service Shudder is around $4.99 a month. On said service, you’ll find Joko Anwar’s Satan’s Slaves, which is worth the price of a monthly fee even if it’s the only Shudder release you watch all October. It’s Indonesia’s answer to James Wan’s body of work and also the closest any filmmaker’s ever come to replicating Wan’s stranglehold on haunted house cinema. This chilling tale of grief and ghostly mothers is scary enough to frighten the most seasoned genre veterans, which makes Satan's Slaves essential Halloween viewing for those chasing dreadfully classic horror vibes.
I've spent a majority of my life's duration avoiding Arachnophobia because spiders are my icky-squeamish weakness, but that was a mistake. Frank Marshall's "horror-comedy" — it's all horror, in my opinion — does such a magnificent job balancing spider "actors," lighthearted community tropes and eight-legged freakouts that'll have your skin crawling something fierce. Arachnophobia is the pinnacle of arachnid horror as a South African bird killer commands an army of drones with their own venomous bites — only Jeff Daniels, Julian Sands and John Goodman can save the day! I wish I'd braved this creeps-per-second entanglement sooner.
The Descent (2006)
Neil Marshall’s take on outdoor recreational horrors in The Descent would make nightmares blush. The claustrophobia of cave exploration and paranoia of pitch-black caverns are nothing compared to the feral beasts that reside within. A group of women wriggle, leap and scamper their way through Appalachian passageways as their spelunking getaway becomes a masterclass in noose-tight tension. There are too many memorable sequences from the blood pool to a crawler’s “behind you” appearance because Marshall’s never been better than The Descent.
The Fog (1980)
The Fog might not win John Carpenter's mainstream popularity contest, but this Coastal California fisherman's tale oozes Halloween vibes. Radio DJs and town priests fend off scurvy scallywags of the undead variety as thick mist rolls through Antonio Bay. It's drenched in atmosphere and dread that many have misunderstood since; a nod towards Carpenter's ability to stage ghost stories that burst alive where others lull. There's something magical about a frightful and focused ancestral curse that rolls in and out as quick as the tide — bonus points for an unmistakably young Jamie Lee Curtis.
Yes, that “vagina dentata” horror movie — the quoted term is Latin for “toothed vagina.” Jess Weixler plays a standout role as this coming-of-age teen whose sexual organs do, in fact, bite back in certain cases. Themes of repressed trauma, vengeful dong severing and the reclamation that Weixler’s character make this Sundance Film Festival premiere anything but a mutation sideshow. There are deeper pains experienced than partners whose masculinity is jeopardized, which Weixler does a tremendous job representing in this ambitious swing for genre cinema. It’s something fresh and different, speaking about consent through a lens that’s as subtle as a man-eating reproductive system.
Adam Green’s Hatchet spawned one of the closest iterations to an iconic modern slasher villain in Victor Crowley. It’s gratuitously violent thanks to John Carl Buechler's practical effects, lays the mythology for an entire franchise and makes fun of both mine and Green’s alma mater Hofstra University — what’s not to like? Kane Hodder portrays the New Orleans swamp killer with a larger-than-life imposition, as ghost tour floaters find out Crowley’s legend is very real and very deadly. Highlights include electrical sanders, torn jawlines and so, so much more slasher vileness with a wink-nudge sense of throwback charm.
The Loved Ones (2009)
Sean Byrne’s The Loved Ones is only one of two features the Tasmanian filmmaker has ever released, and that’s an insane statistic to announce aloud. Why? Because The Loved Ones is an expertly interwoven abduction story laced with teenage angst and inappropriateness, alongside torture-porn hints and creature dashes to boot. Robin McLeavy is a heartbreaker as “Princess” Lola, a heartbroken schoolgirl who retaliates against the boy (played by Xavier Samuel) who declined her prom invitation. Daddy’s little girl gets everything she wants, and in this case it’s a recreation of the prom she fantasizes about with the date of her dreams — whether or not he’s conscious, slashed to bits or barely clinging onto life.
WNUF Halloween Special (2013)
The spirit of Halloween is alive and well in WNUF Halloween Special, a fake VHS recording that replays the horrific events of Oct. 31, 1987. A local television personality leads an investigative team into a house noted for its multiple murders, and their live coverage catches a host of supernatural activity. Old video cameras give a snowy aesthetic of replaying home videos — including some comical advertisements — as exorcists and paranormal seekers fight the unknown on network feeds. It’s microbudget horror with oodles of passion, which translates into a fun-filled night of howls and enjoyment from a movie for horror fans, made by horror fans.
Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for What To Watch, IGN, Paste, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria and countless other publications. He is a member of Critics Choice and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.
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